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Sioux Falls bishop criticizes college speaker

YANKTON (AP) -- The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls has sent a letter to clergy saying he isn't endorsing a nun's speech at a private Catholic college in Yankton because of her views on the new federal health care law.

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Sister Simone Campbell was scheduled to speak Thursday night at Mount Marty College on the topic "Health Care and the Poor." She is the executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice education and lobbying group, and an outspoken supporter of the new federal health care law.

Campbell told the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan newspaper this week that many Catholics have misunderstood the law's mandate that most health plans have to cover birth control for women as a preventive service, free of charge.

"The Obama administration basically accepted all of the requests of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and made modifications," she said. "And yet, the bishops persist in saying it isn't sufficient. They keep moving the goal post. It's a question of giving people true information and not just fear."

Under the law, most employers are required to cover birth control as a free preventive service for women workers. Churches and other houses of worship are fully exempt from the mandate, but religiously affiliated hospitals, universities and social service groups are not.

Bishop Paul Swain said in his letter that the law doesn't protect religious liberty and that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposes it.

"I am aware that Sister Campbell supports the law in its fullness despite the critique of the bishops," he said. "She has also indicated that she does not believe that there is a threat to religious liberty, contrary to the bishops' clear warning."

Swain said Campbell's position "is both personal and wrong," and that the diocese does not endorse her remarks.

Mount Marty President Joseph Benoit said Swain approved Campbell as a speaker last spring, and that he is disappointed by the spat. He said it is important for educational institutions to consider important issues such as health care.

"We have to be open and take into account that everyone is entitled to a viewpoint," he said.